The Journey of Discipleship
Over the past several years, we’ve been working hard to understand how to be a faithful congregation in the 21st century. We know it must mean more than just showing up on Sundays, as important as that is. We’ve come to think of our faith life as a journey or process of growth. While you might start that journey at any of these three points, this order is what happened to Jesus’ first disciples and to most of us in the church.
Often the first thing that happens is a person is introduced to Jesus Christ. With folks in the gospels, sometimes they find Jesus, and sometimes he finds them. Either way, the encounter moves the person to want to know more about who this guy is. They decide to start following him, sometimes at his specific invitation – “Follow me (Mark 2:14),” or “Come and see (John 1:39).” As we follow, we see and hear his wisdom, mercy, grace, peace, and justice. This is God’s self-revelation through Jesus. We discover in Jesus God’s own nature, which is love, and our potential as the children of God.
All this leads us to want to learn more, to worship, and to share our discovery with others.
Belonging to Christ
When we learn who Jesus Christ is and what he’s about, we come to believe he is powerful, trustworthy, and gracious. We begin to trust his promises and leadership enough to obey his directions. We give ourselves more and more into his keeping as “our Lord and Savior,” in the traditional language. He is Lord because he is worthy of our highest allegiance. He is Savior because following his commands frees us from the death-dealing decisions of our own lives and of the broken systems of human society.
As we let Christ claim our lives for God’s reign, we are joined in community with all the believers in every time and place. This is particularly true for a local congregation. In the church we practice living the same kind of loving, gracious, merciful, peaceful life as Jesus. We grow to love one another as Christ has loved us (see John 13:34). When we belong to Christ, we belong to each other. Showing the love of Christ to others helps them grow deeper in belonging to Christ himself.
Serving with Christ
While being a part of a community of mutual love and grace is pretty awesome in and of itself, that is not all there is to being a disciple of Jesus. The proof and the benefit of maturing discipleship is found in service to others, just as Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give his life for others (see Matthew 20:28).
We believe Christian service takes two forms:
Ministry is service offered within the church. God’s Spirit gives believers abilities to carry out the work of the church, like teaching, hospitality, craftsmanship, administration, and music, just to name a few.
Mission is our service to the community and world at large. The church is called to demonstrate the Kingdom of heaven to the world, working to shelter and nurture the children of God, to promote social righteousness, and to witness everywhere to the love and justice of Jesus Christ.
When we serve others in Jesus’ name – serving each one as if we were serving Jesus himself – we are often confronted with new situations or new realizations that drive us to seek new understanding of who Jesus is and what he is doing in the world. And so we begin the cycle again, growing deeper with every turn.